Wednesday 18 September 2019

Ciarán Whelan: 'Dublin will learn more than Kerry from epic draw and Jim Gavin will have new game plan ready'

1 September 2019; Dublin manager Jim Gavin and Diarmuid Connolly during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Kerry at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
1 September 2019; Dublin manager Jim Gavin and Diarmuid Connolly during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Kerry at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Ciarán Whelan

THE expression ‘neither side deserved to lose’ is a cliché but last Sunday’s enthralling All-Ireland final was a case in point.

The game delivered on its promise and more – and the replay on Saturday week looks certain to serve up another Dublin-versus-Kerry epic.

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Dublin performed heroically late on to earn another day out.

While the subs they introduced did not aid them on the scoreboard both Kevin McManamon and Diarmuid Connolly brought good intensity in the short few minutes they were on the pitch. And Dublin, in fairness to them, went for the winner despite operating for over 40 minutes with 14 men following the dismissal of Jonny Cooper.

Both camps will feel there is plenty of room for improvement in facets of the game and management. Arguably, more so with the Dublin camp, and I have to admit I’ll have to up my own game!

Last Saturday, when asked at half-time if I felt the sending off of Cooper was correct by ref David Gough, I said I felt it wasn’t. On reflection, I called that one wrong.

So hands up, I was off target, we live and learn to control the emotions.

The story goes that following the drawn 2016 All-Ireland final between Dublin and Mayo Jim Gavin and his management team retreated to ‘the bunker’ in St Clare’s, DCU late that night for a review of the game.

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Fact or fiction I don’t know, but they only emerged in the small hours of the morning with a clear picture of what they needed to address if they were going to win back-to-back titles.

Dublin had been the beneficiary of two first-half own goals in the drawn encounter (Kevin McLoughlin and Colm Boyle) and were somewhat lucky to keep their Championship dreams alive.

The Dubs made three changes for the replay – bringing in Michael Fitzsimons, Paul Mannion and Paddy Andrews (the first three subs used in the draw) with David Byrne, Michael Darragh Macauley and Bernard Brogan losing out.

Dublin won the replay by a point and they’ll be hoping to repeat the feat on Saturday week.

Gavin will want the group collectively to reflect on what happened last Sunday and I would anticipate the Dublin team meeting this week to have been a very honest place with no responsibility being shirked.

In many ways it was a most untypical Dublin display, that said they were not allowed play by a Kerry team who won the head-to-heads in terms of match-ups, substitutions and game plan.

Dublin only used five subs against Kerry for the first time in their eight SFC games this summer – they hesitated on the line in terms of making changes.

Actually, all last summer also Dublin used their full complement bar in their Super 8 clash with Donegal in mid-July.

It was just one factor of many that underlined the fact that there is something different about Dublin v Kerry in the Championship.

That said, Dublin are still alive but they’ll need a massive improvement as Kerry will be brimming with self-belief now.

The legendary Listowel playwright and novelist John B Keane once wrote that a “Kerry footballer with an inferiority complex was one that thought he’s just as good as everyone else” and the men in green and gold could feel they now have the game to push Dublin over the edge the next time out and restore what they feel is the natural order.

The perceived gap, that many spoke about in advance of last Sunday’s thriller, is certainly not there.

Kerry at times looked the hungrier side and played with, or should I say were allowed play with, greater physicality.

The Kingdom had more stellar performers than Dublin last weekend.

For Dublin, only Stephen Cluxton, Brian Howard, especially Jack McCaffrey and Dean Rock will have been happy with their individual displays. Fitzsimons though did well on Clifford in the second half and Dublin could look to him from the start the next time out as Dublin reshape their selection, structure and game plan.

The Kingdom had big contributors throughout their lines but still they have several players who will feel they didn’t do themselves justice.

In Seán O’Shea they have a really special footballer.

On several occasions this summer I have highlighted his influence and he delivered for his county big time again last Sunday.

Three years ago, when involved in the Dublin development squad set-up, we played Kerry in a minor challenge in the excellent facilities of Staker Wallace club, Limerick.

O’Shea was exceptional at centre-forward, playing with precision from play and frees. His timing and work rate were of a seasoned senior.

He has gone from strength to strength since and Dublin will have to quell his influence the next day.

We can examine in detail next Friday areas of improvement from both sides but I feel Dublin will have to start with midfield.

There inability to secure primary possession there made it easier for Kerry to get back in numbers therefore limiting the amount of early, advantageous ball into Con O’Callaghan, Dean Rock and Paul Mannion. It also curtailed having runners coming off the shoulder.

Dublin got ‘out of jail’ and a lot of soul searching will have taken place in Camp Dublin this week.

They’ll need to try something unpredictable I feel in the replay and have to ensure they don’t lose any players to cards.

The replay can’t come around quick enough.

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